Daniel Rodriguez, New York's 'Singing Cop,' Tries an Opera
By ANTHONY TOMMASINI
Published: June 9, 2006
Daniel Rodriguez will probably always be known as "the singing cop." Mr. Rodriguez, then an officer with the New York City Police Department, comforted an anguished nation in the aftermath of 9/11 with his robustly operatic singing of "God Bless America" during an interfaith service held at Yankee Stadium and televised worldwide. He also appeared at many public memorial services and funerals in the weeks that followed.
The classical music and entertainment worlds took notice. He has since sung with the Boston Pops and with orchestras in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles and elsewhere. He has made the rounds on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and the "Late Show With David Letterman." The tenor Plácido Domingo arranged a short period of intensive study for him in the young artists program of the Washington National Opera, which Mr. Domingo directs.
Born in Brooklyn to music-loving parents, Mr. Rodriguez sang and gave concerts as a teenager. But he married at 19 and became a father of two. He took jobs as a cook, a cabdriver and a security guard before joining the police department, eventually working as a community relations officer.
Now, at 42, Mr. Rodriguez has a thriving singing career, with three solo recordings and a busy concert schedule. He left the police force two years ago.
On Wednesday evening he fulfilled a dream by making his staged operatic debut. Working with a small, fledgling company, the Chelsea Opera, he must have felt safe. Still, he took on a vocally daunting role: Canio in Leoncavallo's "Pagliacci."
Mr. Rodriguez has a real voice: beefy, husky, with baritonal colorings. He also has much to learn if he is truly serious about opera. Still, he threw himself into his portrayal of a good-hearted leader of a roving troupe of Italian players who is driven to violence when he learns that his pretty young wife, Nedda, has become secretly involved with a dashing villager, Silvio.
He provided plenty of the full-bodied singing and raw emotion essential to Leoncavallo's late-19th-century Italian style. Too often, though, he sang as if he had something to prove, filling each phrase with overheated intensity and unleashing full-voiced top notes that shook the rafters of the modest-size church. His singing was dangerous in two senses: excitingly risky but unwisely forced. What he lacked were subtlety, moments of elegant phrasing and smooth legato.
And yet it was impossible not to respond to his portrayal. When he sang the touchstone aria, "Vesti la giubba," venting Canio's grief and humiliation, you sensed that here was someone pouring out years of pent-up artistic longing.
The production, directed by Rod Gomez and presented on a makeshift stage at St. Peter's Church in Chelsea, was endearingly homey. The company says it finds costumes by hunting in thrift shops. Yet the eager chorus of more than 20 looked rather poignant, portraying Italian townspeople in their 1940's-style suits and dresses.
Carmine Aufiero conducted the orchestra, in an arrangement of the score for 18 instruments, with sweep and energy. The palpable involvement of the entire cast was winning.
Maryann Mootos, a bright-voiced soprano, was an appealing Nedda. Ralph Schatzki, an earthy baritone, and Eapen Leubner, a lyric tenor, played the other main members of Canio's troupe, Tonio and Peppe. Stephen Hartley, a hardy baritone, sang Silvio.
Mr. Rodriguez was the news, of course. But if he wants to pursue opera, he will have to cut back on the concert circuit. Because of his prior performance commitments this weekend, the Chelsea Opera, which double-cast the production, had to present him and the rest of Wednesday's cast on successive nights, which is not easy on the voice, rather than on alternate ones.
Additional performances with a different cast are tonight and tomorrow night at 8, St. Peter's Church, 346 West 20th Street, Chelsea, (212) 352-3101.